Atlanta's Auto-Tune savant arrives, uncompromised
Something is going on with this Future album. Or it's the logical conclusion of something. Maybe something is being turned into a new something. I really don't know. Flicking around in the background of Pluto, fighting with all of that incessant Auto-Tune, is the familiar stomp of Southern hip-hop. But Future's kicking against that aggressive sound with his effects-assisted sincerity. Occasionally, he concedes to Atlanta rap's visceral appeal — on "Tony Montana" (terrible, possibly autistic, novelty rap) and "Same Damn Time" (awesome, possibly autistic, catchphrase rap) — then he collapses back to the ground, burdened with the pain of the world. Hearts are broken. Uncles try to off themselves, fail, and try again. You get so high you get freaked out. And you think about being successful and it brings a tear to your eye. At the same damn time!
Here is Future's shtick (and it is, indeed, a shtick): He covers his vocals with a ridiculous amount of Auto-Tune, and then rhythmically talks — he neither sings nor raps — about his pain. If you're thinking "Drake," there's no seductive self-pity. If Kid Cudi comes to mind, this world is much more focused. Too focused, maybe. Future employs outer space as a metaphor for, well, everything and anything. It means he's getting high ("I'm Trippin'"); it's a way of expressing alienation ("Permanent Scar") or love ("Straight Up," "Astronaut Chick," "Turn On The Lights"), which is another type of isolation; sometimes, it just means he's on some other shit ("You Deserve It," which is like Drake singing Take Care's "Make Me Proud" to himself in the mirror).
Is this album any good, though? I really do not know. It feels like a lark. Like Future is gaming the system. He's speaking and mumbling in sometimes rhyming couplets about how much his life sucks and how awesome it is and, more than you'd expect, he's speaking and mumbling about the world's cruelty. Through a shit-ton of Auto-Tune. That's it. The template here is Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak, which moved Auto-Tune away from slap-happy robot pop, towards a dying Hal-9000, leaking out one last love song as it disintegrates. Pluto wrings every melodramatic moan out of 808s, pads it with a few more manipulative tricks (J. Cole-like piano, the "real talk" of street rap, the decades-old tradition of "space is the place" escapism stripped for parts), and creates a singular, bizarre debut that's doggedly one-note, and an affront to the major-label formula that even Nicki Minaj feels obligated to follow. It works.